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“Can Donald Trump Do An Extreme General Election Makeover?”: The Entire Country Will Have To Get Amnesia

Donald Trump may not be the Republican nominee yet, but he’s already started to pivot toward the general election. This is of course what many conservatives fear about Trump: that because he seems to have no real ideological beliefs, he’ll be happy to turn his back on them, both as a candidate and as a president.

But can Trump really cast off the very things that have brought him such improbable success in the Republican primaries when the time comes to appeal to a broader electorate that finds the Trump they’re seeing now utterly repellent? That may turn out to be the most important question of the general election.

It’s one of the wonders of Trump’s candidacy that where other politicians imply things, he just says them plainly so there’s no mistaking what he means. Others might try to convince you that they’re smart, but Trump will just say, “I’m, like, a really smart person.” And while others might begin to adjust their rhetoric in subtle ways as they prepare to appeal to a wider electorate, Trump just comes out and says that he’ll become a completely different person when the political situation demands it. Here’s what he told Sean Hannity last night:

“At the right time, I will be so presidential that you’ll call me and you’ll say, ‘Donald, you have to stop that, it’s too much.’ But you know what? It is true, and I think you understand: When they attack me, I have to attack back. I’m a counter-puncher. When they attack me, if I don’t attack back — You know, the press could say, ‘Oh, he should act more presidential.’ And then like a couple of days ago, I gave a speech, they said, ‘That was so presidential.’ I can be presidential.”

Who is the “they” he’s talking about? He doesn’t say, but I’m fairly certain no one has ever watched one of Trump’s stream-of-consciousness speeches and thought, “that was so presidential.” But as often happens, Trump just makes up something and attributes it to an undefined “they.” (Maybe “they” are the people chowing down on an imaginary Trump Steak while they read the latest copy of the non-existent Trump Magazine, both of which Trump insists do in fact exist.)

This isn’t the first time Trump has said something like this. “As I get closer and closer to the goal, it’s gonna get different,” he told Greta Van Susteren a month ago. “I will be changing very rapidly. I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to.” Or as he said in another interview yesterday: “In order to be victorious, frankly, I had to be very tough and I had to be very sharp and smart and nasty. I can see women not liking that. That will change once this is all over.”

Trump probably could change — within limits. He isn’t going to become conversant with policy issues or demonstrate that he has the faintest idea how government works, but he will almost certainly be changing his focus once he has to appeal to a different audience. He’ll talk about his devotion to protecting Social Security and Medicare, and don’t be surprised if he starts to shuffle back to the center on issues like abortion, gay marriage, and guns. Most of all, he’s likely to downplay the nativist anger that has propelled his campaign, and focus more on the idea that he’s a can-do manager who will whip government into shape and get America winning again.

But that will only work if everyone forgets the Donald Trump they’ve seen since he announced his candidacy nine months ago. And that’s going to be an awfully tall order.

Right now, Trump is poised to be the most disliked party nominee in recent history. Polls routinely show two-thirds of the public saying they have a negative opinion of him. In the Post’s most recent poll, seven out of ten Americans said he isn’t honest and trustworthy, doesn’t understand the problems of people like them, and has neither the right experience nor the right temperament to be president. He seems to think that being “presidential” consists of refraining from calling his opponents names, but it’s going to take a lot more than that.

As just one example, consider the Latino vote. When the Post polled Latinos a couple of weeks ago, eight in ten had a negative opinion of him, and Hillary Clinton won a trial heat against him by 73-16. Many analysts think that if the GOP nominee doesn’t substantially improve on Mitt Romney’s 27 percent support among Latinos in 2012 — and get it up near 40 percent — then he can’t win. If you think Latino voters are going to forget everything Trump has said and done until now once he starts talking nice, I’ve got a bridge you might be interested in buying. (And if you’re thinking Trump will run up such huge numbers among working-class whites that he’ll overcome his weakness with minorities, that isn’t going to happen either.)

Then there’s the question of what happens to the Trump voters who are now so attracted to him precisely because he’s vulgar and angry. There’s an atmosphere of thuggery that surrounds Trump, with  his rallies regularly featuring violence directed by his supporters at the protesters who often appear. Trump has held on to that core of Republican voters because of his current persona. That group — a plurality of Republicans, which is miles from being a majority of the entire electorate — might not be so excited about Trump if he stops being the person he is now.

Maybe Trump will surprise us all, and in the general election he’ll be, as he says, “more presidential than anybody other than the great Abe Lincoln.” But in order for that to work, the entire country is going to have to get amnesia.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 10, 2016

March 13, 2016 - Posted by | Donald Trump, General Election 2016, GOP Primaries, Governing | , , , , , , ,


  1. But you don’t need the entire country to get amnesia, just the 10-20% of the swing voters. And as they say, a week is a lifetime in politics.


    Comment by List of X | March 13, 2016 | Reply

  2. One thing is for certain, if he wins the nomination his consistent lying will get a lot of airplay, as will his history of exploitation and eviction of others. Fellow Repubs cannot chastise his lying as it is similar to theirs, just more of it.


    Comment by Keith | March 13, 2016 | Reply

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